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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 5. - 3/13 -


girl could thus defy the Church, and answer the bishop in his own cathedral. Her father rose, and then I saw her sway with faintness. I know not what might have occurred, for the bishop stood with hand upraised and a great indignation in his face, about to speak, when out of the desultory firing from our batteries there came a shell, which burst even at the cathedral entrance, tore away a portion of the wall, and killed and wounded a number of people.

Then followed a panic which the priests in vain tried to quell. The people swarmed into the choir and through the vestry. I saw Doltaire with Juste Duvarney spring swiftly to the side of Alixe, and, with her father, put her and Mademoiselle Lotbiniere into the pulpit, forming a ring round it, and preventing the crowd from trampling on them, as, suddenly gone mad, they swarmed past. The Governor, the Intendant, and the Chevalier de la Darante did as much also for Madame Lotbiniere; and as soon as the crush had in a little subsided, a number of soldiers cleared the way, and I saw my wife led from the church. I longed to leap down there among them and claim her, but that thought was madness, for I should have been food for worms in a trice, so I kept my place.

XXVI

THE SECRET OF THE TAPESTRY

That evening, at eight o'clock, Jean Labrouk was buried. A shell had burst not a dozen paces from his own door, within the consecrated ground of the cathedral, and in a hole it had made he was laid, the only mourners his wife and his grandfather, and two soldiers of his company sent by General Bougainville to bury him. I watched the ceremony from my loft, which had one small dormer window. It was dark, but burning buildings in the Lower Town made all light about the place. I could hear the grandfather mumbling and talking to the body as it was lowered into the ground. While yet the priest was hastily reading prayers, a dusty horseman came riding to the grave, and dismounted.

"Jean," he said, looking at the grave, "Jean Labrouk, a man dies well that dies with his gaiters on, aho! ... What have you said for Jean Labrouk, m'sieu'?" he added to the priest.

The priest stared at him, as though he had presumed.

"Well?" said Gabord. "Well?"

The priest answered nothing, but prepared to go, whispering a word of comfort to the poor wife. Gabord looked at the soldiers, looked at the wife, at the priest, then spread out his legs and stuck his hands down into his pockets, while his horse rubbed its nose against his shoulder. He fixed his eyes on the grave, and nodded once or twice musingly.

"Well," he said at last, as if he had found a perfect virtue, and the one or only thing that could be said, "well, he never eat his words, that Jean."

A moment afterwards he came into the house with Babette, leaving one of the soldiers holding his horse. After the old man had gone, I heard him say, "Were you at mass to-day? And did you see all?"

And when she had answered yes, he continued: "It was a mating as birds mate, but mating was it, and holy fathers and Master Devil Doltaire can't change it till cock-pheasant Moray come rocketing to 's grave. They would have hanged me for my part in it, but I repent not, for they have wickedly hunted this little lady."

"I weep with her," said Jean's wife.

"Ay, ay, weep on, Babette," he answered.

"Has she asked help of you?" said the wife.

"Truly; but I know not what says she, for I read not, but I know her pecking. Here it is. But you must be secret."

Looking through a crack in the floor, I could plainly see them. She took the letter from him and read aloud:

"If Gabord the soldier have a good heart still, as ever he had in the past, he will again help a poor friendless woman. She needs him, for all are against her. Will he leave her alone among her enemies? Will he not aid her to fly? At eight o'clock to-morrow night she will be taken to the Convent of the Ursulines, to be there shut in. Will he not come to her before that time?"

For a moment after the reading there was silence, and I could see the woman looking at him curiously. "What will you do?" she asked.

"My faith, there's nut to crack, for I have little time. This letter but reached me with the news of Jean, two hours ago, and I know not what to do, but, scratching my head, here comes word from General Montcalm that I must ride to Master Devil Doltaire with a letter, and I must find him wherever he may be, and give it straight. So forth I come; and I must be at my post again by morn, said the General."

"It is now nine o'clock, and she will be in the convent," said the woman tentatively.

"Aho!" he answered, "and none can enter there but Governor, if holy Mother say no. So now goes Master Devil there? 'Gabord,' quoth he, 'you shall come with me to the convent at ten o'clock, bringing three stout soldiers of the garrison. Here's an order on Monsieur Ramesay, the Commandant. Choose you the men, and fail me not, or you shall swing aloft, dear Gabord.' Sweet lovers of hell, but Master Devil shall have swinging too one day." He put his thumb to his nose, and spread his fingers out.

Presently he seemed to note something in the woman's eyes, for he spoke almost sharply to her: "Jean Labrouk was honest man, and kept faith with comrades."

"And I keep faith too, comrade," was the answer.

"Gabord's a brute to doubt you," he rejoined quickly, and he drew from his pocket a piece of gold, and made her take it, though she much resisted.

Meanwhile my mind was made up. I saw, I thought, through "Master Devil's" plan, and I felt, too, that Gabord would not betray me. In any case, Gabord and I could fight it out. If he opposed me, it was his life or mine, for too much was at stake, and all my plans were now changed by his astounding news. At that moment Voban entered the room without knocking. Here was my cue, and so, to prevent explanations, I crept quickly down, opened the door, came in on them.

They wheeled at my footsteps; the woman gave a little cry, and Gabord's hand went to his pistol. There was a wild sort of look in his face, as though he could not trust his eyes. I took no notice of the menacing pistol, but went straight to him and held out my hand.

"Gabord," said I, "you are not my jailer now."

"I'll be your guard to citadel," said he, after a moment's dumb surprise, refusing my outstretched hand.

"Neither guard nor jailer any more, Gabord," said I seriously. "We've had enough of that, my friend."

The soldier and the jailer had been working in him, and his fingers trifled with the trigger. In all things he was the foeman first. But now something else was working in him. I saw this, and added pointedly, "No more cage, Gabord, not even for reward of twenty thousand livres and at command of Holy Church."

He smiled grimly, too grimly, I thought, and turned inquiringly to Babette. In a few words she told him all, tears dropping from her eyes.

"If you take him, you betray me," she said; "and what would Jean say, if he knew?"

"Gabord," said I, "I come not as a spy; I come to seek my wife, and she counts you as her friend. Do harm to me, and you do harm to her. Serve me, and you serve her. Gabord, you said to her once that I was an honourable man."

He put up his pistol. "Aho, you've put your head in the trap. Stir, and click goes the spring."

"I must have my wife," I continued. "Shall the nest you helped to make go empty?"

I worked upon him to such purpose that, all bristling with war at first, he was shortly won over to my scheme, which I disclosed to him while the wife made us a cup of coffee. Through all our talk Voban had sat eying us with a covert interest, yet showing no excitement. He had been unable to reach Alixe. She had been taken to the convent, and immediately afterwards her father and brother had gone their ways--Juste to General Montcalm, and the Seigneur to the French camp. Thus Alixe did not know that I was in Quebec.

An hour after this I was marching, with two other men and Gabord, to the Convent of the Ursulines, dressed in the ordinary costume of a French soldier, got from the wife of Jean Labrouk. In manner and speech though I was somewhat dull, my fellows thought, I was enough like a peasant soldier to deceive them, and my French was more fluent than their own. I was playing a desperate game; yet I liked it, for it had a fine spice of adventure apart from the great matter at stake. If I could but carry it off, I should have sufficient compensation for all my miseries, in spite of their twenty thousand livres and Holy Church.

In a few minutes we came to the convent, and halted outside, waiting for Doltaire. Presently he came, and, looking sharply at us all, he ordered two to wait outside, and Gabord and myself to come with him. Then he stood looking at the building curiously for a moment. A shell had broken one wing of it, and this portion had been abandoned; but the faithful Sisters clung still to their home, though urged constantly by the Governor to retire to the Hotel Dieu, which was outside the reach of shot and shell. This it was their intention soon to do, for within the past day or so our batteries had not sought to spare the convent. As Doltaire looked he laughed to himself, and then said, "Too quiet for gay spirits, this hearse. Come, Gabord, and fetch this slouching fellow," nodding towards me.


The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 5. - 3/13

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